There's nothing more fun than imagining everything Apple's working on. To consider what the company will be able to push the envelope on and what they'll have to be more conservative about, which opportunities will suddenly present themselves and what plans will need to change even at the last minute. Especially when you consider where Apple's products are already, what potential they hint at, and what pain-points they still present. The key is sticking to those possibilities that are in keeping with the laws of physics and realities of economics.
In other words, as much as we'd love an iPhone 7 that pours espresso shots from the Lightning port, that probably won't ship this year. Probably. So what will?
Apple Watch 2
Rene: The Apple Watch launched last March. Since there's been only one so far, there's no established update pattern to rely on. My guess, though, it that it'll start off like iPhone and iPad, with a yearly refresh that lets Apple iterate quickly.
If technology enthusiasts worry that's too soon, and we can't be expected to buy another Apple Watch already, a gentle reminder: We're not the center of the universe. Apple Watch 2 isn't meant for us. We can buy it, of course, but like every next-generation device Apple has made, it'll be targeted not at those who just bought, but at those who have yet to buy.
If Apple stays in the higher-end market, new materials like titanium and platinum would be interesting to see. Additional sensors would also be great, though anything medical related would likely be saved for alternative devices that can afford the complexities of regulation.
GPS would be a huge benefit, like it was for iPhone in its second generation. There's be a cost to be paid in power, but it would be a huge benefit to runners and for navigation. LTE feels like it's still long-shot, given the power demands and data plan requirements. Wi-Fi that can be used more effectively when available, combined with smart tethering when not, could be enough to increase independence, at least for now.
I'm most looking forward to seeing what Apple does with the S2 system-on-a-chip. The current S1 pretty much runs as fast and as hot as it can, so if the S2 can be more powerful and more power efficient, we'll get better performance and/or longer battery life. It all depends if Apple wants to make the Watch 2 thinner. I don't think they need to, but people who wear suits and shirts with tight cuffs tell me they do, so it's entirely possible.
And, hey, if the Apple S2 is efficient enough to enable always-on, persistent time, that'd be great.
I am expecting Watch 2 to maintain compatibility with existing bands. We went 10 years with the 30-pin Dock and if can go just as many with the bands I—and my wallet—will be exceedingly happy. At least until I see what, if any, new bands Apple has come up with…
Ren: Like Rene, I expect we'll see a new version of the Apple Watch debut this Spring. Those expecting major boosts or complete reinventions of the Watch, however, may want to wait until 2017—to my mind, this will be an S-year-style polish for Apple's wrist-worn device. That likely means we'll see a speed boost and a new feature or two if the company can fit it within the Watch's diminuitive casing, but nothing major.
And that's okay. I'd rather see the company genuinely take its time for the next major generation of Apple Watch rather than try to pump it out in 12 months. People looking for round designs or vastly improved battery life? Well, you're going to have to keep looking, at least in the short term. Apple iterates, and this year, that iteration means working with what they have and making it great. (And there's a lot on the watch that badly needs a polish in 2016.)
For the next version, I'm personally banking on a slight speed and internal capacity boost, health sensors with improved reliability, new colors, new bands, and possibly a GPS sensor or FaceTime camera. (Yes, as goofy as it sounds, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some sort of camera on the watch.) I'm hoping that speed increase will be most noticeable in app launches—the Watch apps are still nowhere near where they need to be when it comes to reliability.
watchOS 2.x/watchOS 3
Rene: watchOS 1 launched with new hardware but watchOS 2, which was more of a rounding-out and completion of existing features, did not. A new Apple Watch would need updated software to take advantage of any new hardware features. Beyond that, the next major version of watchOS seems, like iOS and OS X, to be a WWDC thing.
Rather than rounding-out and completion, however, it feels like watchOS needs some level of reimagining. When Apple entered the phone and tablet markets, it was after a decade of observing the experiments of other vendors. With watches, Apple entered early enough to be part of the experiment.
Siri is a terrific interface for something too small to have a keyboard, but it needs to be faster and more reliable. More pressingly, the iPhone app model hasn't proven as effective on the watch, where brief, frequent, important interactions are more valuable than binary blobs.
Re-focusing around notifications and complications that are even more intelligent and dynamic might end up being better on the wrist than the carousel.
Ren: Externally, the Apple Watch 2 may not dramatically change in 2016. On the software side, I'm hoping for a revolution.
The company's designers and engineers tried a lot of exciting and intriguing things with the first generation of watchOS. They had apps powered by Handoff. Siri-based actioning. A different kind of social chat. Apple Pay on the wrist. Health sensors. I'm glad Apple experimented in a big way with the watch and its controls. But not all of those experiments were successes, and it's time to take nearly a year's worth of user data and apply it to 2.0.
The carousel—and watch apps, period—need a rethink. While I love the look of the home screen, in practice it's a mis-tapping mess, especially on the 38mm model. On top of that, apps take too long to enter or exit once you've accidentally tapped on one. If apps are going to be on the watch at all beyond complications, they need to run on the watch—and they need to be fast. Authy (a two-factor authentication code generator) is a brilliant concept for the watch. But when it takes 10-15 seconds to load said codes, I'm not going to use it. (Especially when you add in the time it takes to find the little carousel icon, since saying "Siri, open Authy" provokes the response: "Offie? I'm not sure what you meant.")
Exercise, too: I hope the software gets just a little bit smarter when it comes to workouts. I'd love the watch to automatically recognize the difference between normal interactions and exercise, even if it gets it wrong at first. Often, I forget to start an exercise routine—or it's difficult to access under a wrist guard—and it would be awesome if the watch would prompt you with a notification along the lines of "You seem to be starting a workout (because your heart rate's suddenly elevated and your body is moving in a different way than normal). I've automatically begun recording data; force press to delete the sesison if I've done this in error." I also wouldn't mind an workout complication to go along with the exercise rings monitor—it's, again, a lot easier to start a workout if there's a one-touch shortcut in your immediate vicinity.
Finally, I desperately want to see offline Siri support. Voice control is one of the watch's best ways to input information, but it's still too slow—in part because it relies on the iPhone for its connection. Offload that to the watch, and Siri becomes faster and available while you're away from your iPhone.
iPad Air 3
Rene: The iPad Air 3 has been showing signs of life for a while now, so if it's not already good to go, hopefully it will be soon. An Apple A9-series chipset would make it even more powerful, and Touch ID 2, even faster to unlock. If Apple can make it lighter again with the same battery, I assume they will, so we can hold it up to read or watch for even longer stretches.
Since 3D Touch may not scale to 9.7-inch displays, the biggest questions for me are Smart Connector and Apple Pencil. Both make sense for the Air, but Apple Pencil has been so hard to produce, Apple still can't ship enough of them to meet iPad Pro demand.
Likewise the technology needed in the display to support it might not fit the bill of goods this year. Either way, it'll be interesting to how Apple decides to make it a compelling upgrade for those still on iPads 2, 3, or 4.
Ren: The iPad Air 3 is definitely coming. Whether it will fill the needs of those wanting a cheaper-style iPad Pro, however... I'm not so sure. 3D Touch is a question mark, because of display size, though I'm more inclined to believe it would come to the iPad Air than the Pencil. As Rene said, the Pencil is already supply-constrained, and I'm not sure the company will be able to rev up enough for both Pro and Air users. I also wonder what Apple's hard line is going to be for differentiating the Pro from the Air going forward: Is it just about screen size? Or is the Pencil going to remain a Pro-exclusive item? I am hopeful for the Smart Connector make its way to the Air line, but I just don't know if we're going to see it in 2016.
Rene: Apple hasn't made a 4-inch iPhone since 2013. The vast majority of people don't want 4-inch iPhones any more. But some do. As Apple scales, adding addressable markets is one of the easiest ways to maintain growth.
The challenge is how to position a smaller iPhone. Some people equate smallness with cheapness, but that's not how Apple rolls. Still, if an iPhone Plus is $100 more expensive, there'll be an expectation that an iPhone Minus will be $100 cheaper.
The easiest way to feed into that expectation is to keep it at least a year behind the bigger iPhones. And perhaps to keep it off-cycle, so it's not being marketed head-to-head with next-generation flagships. (Even if those next-generation flagships might make it less relevant.)
So, the least surprising iPhone 6c for me would be the one that's simply an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s shrunk down to 4-inches.
Ren: As much as I feel for the folks who want a four-inch iPhone, I'm very skeptical of it actually happening. While iOS's adjustable layout classes make it easier for developers to build for multiple iPhone sizes, that's largely been to expand device size, rather than contract it. Though any modern app can work on a 4-inch screen, I just don't know if the experience is good enough to warrant Apple offering it again.
Rene: The MacBook was designed for a world without wires. Because that world doesn't yet exist, though, Apple was forced to add a power plug. Then, since uni-taskers are lame, the company chose a cable that could also carry data—USB-C.
Inductive charging through metal is now becoming possible, but we're still not a point where it could realistically serve as the only way to charge a MacBook. Since the MacBook design itself is so new, it's best to keep our expectations less radical anyway.
Now that they'll be using the same plug, a hybrid USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port would open up a wider world of accessories. That is, if Intel can ship a chip that enables it.
For me, Intel was the biggest issue with the original. Broadwell-Y/Core M simply fell short of being great. Intel's next-generation Skylake Core M should fix some of that. If not, hopefully Apple's silicone team is looking at it as the next (eventual) world to conquer.
Other than that, figure out a way to cram a 1080p iSight camera into the casing and I'll be super happy.
Ren: Speed is the name of the game when it comes to the next generation MacBook. Like the original MacBook Air, the MacBook's slim reimagining came at a huge processor cost; 2016 should bring a bump in power with Skylake's Core M and a more usable MacBook overall.
Rene: It seems inevitable that MacBooks will replace MacBooks Air. Sure, it'll take a 14-inch MacBook, maybe with an extra port or two, to replace the 13-inch MacBook Air, but that doesn't seem unlikely. What does seem unlikely is the MacBooks dropping in price enough to do it anytime soon.
The 11-inch MacBook Air starting at $900 is the least expensive way for anyone to get a full Mac experience and until a MacBook can match that price point, the MacBook Air feels safe.
Ren: Oh little MacBook Airs, long have I loved you. Like Rene, I suspect the low-cost non-Retina Air will live at least another year—cheap Macs are great for education and new users, after all. But with iPads and MacBooks encroaching from all sides, I fear this wee computer's days are numbered.
iOS 10 (iOS X?)
Rene: iOS 7 was the redesign that led to scalability. iOS 8 was the re-architecture that led to extensibility. iOS 9 used both to give us everything from split view to watch apps. iOS 10 will hopefully continue along the same path.
We haven't gotten Continuity for media yet, which would let us handoff audio and video between devices, including the new Apple TV. We haven't gotten Guest Mode yet, Touch ID prompt for iCloud Keychain, or optional multi-factor Touch ID + Passcode for high-security. Whether iPhone goes OLED or not, we have gotten pervasive Night Mode or a theming engine.
Apple News, meanwhile, got off to a good start but was locked away inside its own app. I'd love to see it unified with Shared Links and Reading List in Safari, and propagated into Suggested News on the minus-one Home screen.
A real color-picker in Notes would also be great. A system-wide color-picker API and SketchKit that could be used across apps would be even better. And for Serenity's sake, please fix the audio pipeline. She has podcasting to do.
Last year iPad began to get some love, but it still doesn't have an optimized Home screen for the big screen the way Watch does for the small screen or Apple TV does for the giant, decoupled screen. We have Split View but we don't yet have drag-and-drop, we have smarter keyboards but we don't yet have complete keyboard navigation, and-and we don't yet have multiuser.
App Store also needs a ton of work. Search is still terrible. It can't compensate for spelling mistakes, sometimes won't include the exact app name you type in the results it returns, doesn't seem to provide any meaningful relevancy, and is otherwise missing really basic features. Developers have other issues with it, but as a customer, just fix that please.
And that's not even counting the more ambitious, more transformative possibilities. At the same time, software polish remains an issue. If they're not already doing it, it would be phenomenal to see Apple give engineers some percentage of time a week to fix bugs that don't cause crashes but do hurt usability and delight. They're craftspeople, they know which bits of code irk them, and they'll take care of it—all they need is room in the schedule.
Ren: iPad OS may never be a reality, but more iPad-specific features well could be. Drag and drop between Split View screens, more flexibility with app-switching, better audio support—all these and more I hope to see in iOS 10. After all, ten iterations of iOS is a pretty great milestone for announcing a complete reinvisioning of the iPhone and iPad Home screen.
I'm also curious to see if USB-C speeds in the SD camera kit also comes to the USB kit—and if it does, if Apple decides to open up wider accessory support for the iPad. System-wide USB keyboards, microphones, and media accessories could make a huge difference in productivity.
tvOS 10 (tvOS X?)
Rene: tvOS feels now where watchOS felt last year—in need of an update that rounds it out and completes it, rather than expands on it in any major way.
Siri, which needs to be a primary interface, is still limited and unreliable. Getting it up to speed with iPhone and even better focused for media and apps must surely be a priority. Likewise getting all the apps finished and at least as feature-complete as the old Apple TV. (Looking at you, iTunes TV app.)
The new Remote app can't come fast enough, though for many merely transiting passwords—or better still, Touch ID authorization—to a linked iPhone or iPad would be simpler and likely enough. Games that don't have to be tied to the Siri remote—perhaps that can only be bought when a game controller is connected—would be another welcome addition.
Apps in general, though, highlight a huge, ongoing problem. You can't link to, click on, or otherwise share them. In an ideal world you'd be able to initiate purchase of any app for any of Apple's platform on any Apple device or via iTunes Preview on the web. Pick the app, pick the device(s) you want it for, and hit Get/Buy. Then, next time you're on that device, confirm your purchase with passcode or Touch ID, and it downloads.
Other vendors do it, and it's so wickedly obvious Apple simply has to be working on it. The pain that it causes specifically on Apple TV simply indicates how important it is for Apple to get it done.
Ren: Rene is singing all my complaints here. tvOS is unfinished. It has lots of potential, but it needs a solid update to smooth out those rough corners and make the Apple TV hardware shine. Better virtual remotes are a must, as is app discovery. And while I really, really, really want to see a no-cable subscription service in 2016, I'd settle for some stable software and full access to my iCloud Photo Library.
OS X 10.12 (macOS 12?)
Rene: The current version of the Mac operating system is mature, robust, and powerful. Some of the new features, though, still need rounding out. For example, Split View on OS X can be created but can't be modified. To change either of the apps, you need to destroy the whole layout and remake it anew. That's slow.
Mac App Store is languishing worse than the iOS App Store. iPhone—and to some degree, iPad—make all the money so gobble up all the resources, but as a matter of pride the MAS needs some love. Parity with iOS would be a great start.
Other than that, what interests me the most is what Apple does to further develop new technologies like the Force Touch Trackpad. I'd love to be able to sketch in Notes like iOS, for example. Getting Apple News onto OS X would also be great.
Ren: OS X has once again become Apple's rock when it comes to operating systems. There are bits here and there to improve—better Split View and more interaction with Force Touch, for example—but the Mac is in a pretty comfortable position.
Like Rene, I want a good, hard look at the Mac App Store and software development—the platform depends on great third-party developers, and the App Store is increasingly becoming a place they don't want to be.
I also want to see more attention back on Continuity and Handoff, especially in the audiovisual realm. Not only would it be a great Apple Music tie-in, but it might also encourage some major work on iTunes—a beast Apple has needed to tame for a long, long, time.
Rene: Though it keeps improving, Apple Music still seems to have an impossible job. It just can't make every type of customer happy given everything Apple wants to do with it. Simplification needs to happen.
Admittedly, I have no idea how to solve for this. About all I can think of is breaking it into two and providing an iPod app for people who have large, existing, carefully curated music collections and simply want to wirelessly sync those to their iOS devices. Then Apple Music can shed its legacy debt and fully embrace the streaming model for those who only ever want everything from the cloud. It's twice as much to manage but might cut confusion in half.
(So might figuring out a universal behavior for the Heart glyph, across Music, News, and Photos…)
Ren: Oh, Apple Music. I want to like you. I think Beats 1 is great. But you need to get your algorithms and your matching figured out. Talk to your friends on the Photos team: People's music is almost as sacred as their photos. You can't muck up matching on this scale or they're going to run into the arms of their nearest music service—and there are a lot of them. 2016 needs to be a major fix-it year for Apple Music: They need to prove to their customers that first and foremost, they're reliable. Then we can start hyping up exclusive streaming contracts and special playlists.
Also: You have to figure out your social problem. Connect is failing, and I can't easily share or edit playlists with my friends—a key aspect of music streaming in this day and age.
Rene: If the new MacBook is the future of laptops, it'd be great to see the MacBooks Pro start embracing that future as well. As with everything else Mac, a lot depends on Intel's ability to ship the chips, but there's still room for a redesign.
How far Apple can push the MacBooks Pro when it comes to portability and without impacting the power that makes them Pro is a good question. My guess, though, is pretty far.
Ren: The MacBook Pros have fast chips and beautiful Retina screens—where do they go from here? My guess for 2016 is, like Rene, the beginnings of MacBook design adoption. We're not going to lose the ports on the MacBook Pro this year, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the thinner butterfly-style keyboard make its way to the bigger laptops, along with new improvements in battery-packing.
Rene: I'm guessing Apple is still waiting on Thunderbolt 3 to ship the Retina 5K Thunderbolt display. We should be getting the former in 2016 so hopefully we'll be getting the latter as well. It's possible Apple might also sneak some extra features inside the new version when it finally ships. It's a pro product, so pro-level power and productivity will be appreciated.
Apple TV 5
Rene: After two-and-a-half years we finally—finally—got a new Apple TV. And now it's tied to a developer platform, it's hard to imagine Apple letting it languish again.
Obviously, HDMI 2, a more modern Apple A-series chipset with 60fps 4K and high-dynamic range (HDR) support is the dream. But the vast majority of people still don't have the hardware or bandwidth to make use of it.
An updated Siri remote with less confusing button labeling and layout would be terrific. I'd even be curious to see if Apple could come up with something better, more reliable, and more robust than Bluetooth that would allow for multiple different peripherals to connect at the same time without any collision or collapse. Either way, I wouldn't be surprised if the next update only came in 2017.
Ren: 2016 is the year of Apple TV software improvements. A 4K box can wait a year at the expense of making tvOS great.
iPad mini 5
Rene: See iPad Air 3, only smaller. (With an Apple Pencil, it would be digital Field Notes…)
Ren: Oh, how I would love the Pencil on the mini. But I don't think it's happening. That said, the mini might be a good testing ground for 3D Touch on a bigger screen if Apple engineers don't quite think they can get to the Air in 2016.
iPad Pro 2
Rene: Everything about the iPad Pro is so new it feels strange talking about an update already. If Apple ships A10-series processors, though, the top of the line iPad should stay top-of-the-line. A 256 GB option would also be great, especially to for all that Pro-level content.
Other than that, reducing the weight without affecting battery life is the only other update I'm really looking forward to in the near-ish future.
Ren: Like with the Apple TV, I'm more interested in software updates than hardwhere when it comes to the next iPad Pro. (But if they could move the iSight camera to the top bezel rather than the left side, I would be thrilled.)
Rene: If Apple holds to the company's previous pattern, this year we'll get a new iPhone redesign. The last brought us bigger and sleeker; this time I'm hoping for smaller and sleeker. Not in terms of screen size—I'm more than happy with 4.7- and 5.5-inches—but with casing size.
Bezels have their place, but so does minimizing the non-viewable areas of the device. There's also not a millimeter of space to spare, but as efficiencies improve shifting from thinner to smaller makes sense. Both increase lightness but smallness starts increasing usability even more.
The greatest challenge is the Home button, since it currently houses Touch ID. If that could be shifted or virtualized, though, we could one day have an iPhone 7 that's not much bigger than an iPhone 5, and an iPhone 7 Plus that's only slightly bigger than an iPhone 6s. (Even an iPhone 7c that's almost as small as an iPhone 4…). Or maybe an iPhone 8. We'll have to wait and see.
If Apple has to ditch the 3.5 mm headphone jack to continue the march towards the future, I'm fine with that. HD audio via Lightning could help market that, but better masters matter far more for audio than bitrate at this point. Either way, ditching the jack creates more room inside the device for everything else. Just give me two kickass speakers, please.
Capacitive charging through metal is finally a thing, but so are non-metal materials that provide strength, radio-transparency, and play nicely with induction. How soon Apple is ready to embrace any or of that, though, is a question.
As are OLED displays. Apple is using LED for 3D Touch so, unless there's a way to make that work, OLED might not work. Quantum Dot might also make it unnecessary over the next few years anyway.
Cameras remain one of the most important features in phones. Apple just upgraded to 12 megapixels and 1080p, and the iPhone already takes pretty pictures and shoots sensational video. But not DSLR or Micro Four Thirds level. Apple's going to continue to close that gap, especially given the sensor and processor technology available to the company.
Speaking of which, as ludicrous as the Apple A9-series systems-on-a-chip were, there's still no signs of Apple slowing down. Now that we're starting to get faster storage controllers and higher amounts of RAM, it's hard not to be excited about where the Apple A10 series takes us.
Ren: If the iPhone 7 is far enough along, tech-wise, to allow for Touch ID anywhere on the screen, I'd be thrilled. It's a natural progression from 3D Touch and would allow for the removal of the Home button (and people's frustration with quick unlocks). More likely, though, I think we'll see the headphone jack disappear first, with Home button removal saved for iPhone 7s or 8.
For me, my top iPhone hopes always center around the camera. Every iteration makes that camera the best one yet, and this year should prove to be no exception. Bringing 240fps slo-mo up to 1080p would be a nice touch, but my big hopes revolve around aperture. The iPhone has had a fixed aperture and tiny lens for the entirety of its life, which has made getting photos with shallow and deep depth of field more challenging than with your average DSLR. There's not a ton you can do with this physically—unless you completely change the shape and style of the iPhone camera—but software improvements and key Apple acquisitions might just allow for depth-after-the-fact (tapping on an area of the picture to focus on it). This, to me, is far more interesting than the other major iPhone camera rumor: shooting in 3D.
Your 2016 wish-list?
That's what we're looking forward to from Apple in the new year. What do you want to see from iPhone, iPad, Watch, TV, Mac, and more?